The first place I ever lived away from home was Munich, Germany. I was 17 when I moved there and a few weeks after my arrival Munich celebrated its annual Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest is the world’s largest fair and all over the world different cities model their own Oktoberfest after Munich’s.
During the festival only beer brewed within the city borders of the City of Munich is allowed to be served, and it comes in huge, heavy glasses. Each glass is filled with one whole litre of beer.
At the time, I was very, very new to the world of alcohol consumption. Up to that point in my life I’d never drank beer and I’d probably not even consumed the total equivalent of a bottle of wine over my 17 years. So I wasn’t yet acquainted with the personal and intimate knowledge of how other factors can influence your body’s reaction to drinking. Factors such as hydration, food consumption, rate of consumption, body mass, tolerance levels, etc. etc. But oh boy, did I learn that day…
I went to Oktoberfest with the parents of family with whom I was living. They happened to be British, and they happened to have a whole load of British mates over for the festival. We headed out in the hot, late September sunshine to join in with the crowds of merrymakers from all across Europe and the world. We rode the rides, wandered round the stalls, and generally enjoyed the atmosphere. It was hot. It was busy.
Mistake One: I hadn’t eaten much all day when we headed into the first beer tent to cool down with a beer.
Mistake Two: I’d been thirsty, but I hadn’t drank much all day.
We sat down at one of the long wooden tables and ordered. I was imagining…you know, a beer. A bottle of beer. Or maybe a pint. Certainly not the huge, heavy litre I and all the British lads around me were served. Still being very young and stupid enough to feel like I had to ‘prove’ something, I was determined to drink at the same as the men. The six foot, solidly built, had-been-drinking-from-mid-teens 30 year old men.
That was Mistake Three.
So I had my beer. And guess what? I didn’t finish last! And guess what else? I felt fine!
I felt fine while strolling around afterwards, I felt fine when I dropped my paper-ticket to the roller coaster ride because I absently just…stopped holding it…and it blew off in the wind, I felt fine when we rocked back into another beer tent for dinner.
Dinner of half a chicken and…another litre of beer.
I felt fine dancing on the table and watching the Italians beside us get naked and singing Beatles’ songs along with the brass bound and shouting out ‘Ein Maas!’ for another litre of beer.
I felt fine drinking that beer at the same rate as all the Brits so that when it was time for the third round…I was ready for my third litre of beer. You know, for my dehydrated, exhausted, low-tolerance, dancing, singing, having-a-fabulous-time-and-not-realizing-how-incredibly-intoxicated-I-was-getting body.
Mistake Four, clearly.
I felt fine when we eventually finished in the beer tent and headed out for more rides. More importantly, I felt fine when we got on the big ferris wheel into a little swaying cabin with a group of young men and we happily started chatting and introducing ourselves and they asked where I was from.
‘Canada! I’m from Canada!’ I recall shouting over all the other shouting taking place between us and our inebriated new friends. ‘Toronto!’.
‘Oh yes!’ one replied, ‘We love Canada!’
‘And you?’ I asked.
‘Vienna!’ they shouted back.
‘Oh!’ I shouted. ‘I’ve always wanted to go to Italy!’
Mistake Five: forgetting that alcohol impairs…well, pretty much everything, and making your new friends think you’re the idiot who really doesn’t know the difference between Vienna, Austria, and Venice, Italy.
But all’s well that ends well and they had their share of amusement laughing at the ridiculous Canadian girl who didn’t know her geography, and I was too drunk to be embarrassed for long.
So, I felt fine as we went home (although I don’t remember much after the ferris wheel ride), and went straight to bed.
Mistake Six: should have had water before bed. Although I’m fairly sure that even if I’d had 6 litres then it wouldn’t have prepared me for…
Feeling fine right up until the moment I found myself crawling on the floor to the bathroom in order to take my first ever shift worshipping the porcelain goddess. Which was quickly followed by a second, and third, and fourth, and fifth shift (after which I lost count) as I repeated the pattern of crawling to bed and back to the toilet over and over again that day.
And then I didn’t feel fine for a long, long, long time afterwards.
And for an even longer time, I couldn’t stomach even the smell of beer without wanting to vomit.
But all’s well now and should I ever have the fortune of returning to Oktoberfest, I’ll know not to repeat any of my naive mistakes.
Oktoberfest, Munich, Bavaria, Germany
And the best part? I’ve started drinking beer again.